Sunday, October 4, 2020

Zinc and treating the common cold



Since 1974, when a study titled “Zinc ions inhibit replication of rhinoviruses” by Korant, Kauer, and Butterworth was published in the journal Nature, the idea that zinc can prevent or cure the common cold has circulated. Many studies have looked at different zinc ionophores and lozenge formulas and their effect on the course of cold symptoms, as well as the potential biochemical mechanism at work. Though the exact mechanism of action is still unknown, there is some consensus that ionized zinc affects picornaviruses.


Zinc Against Cold Viruses


Rhinoviruses, of the family Picornaviridae, are only one type of almost 200 viruses that cause the acute respiratory infection symptoms known as the common cold. However, rhinoviruses are estimated to cause one-third to half of all colds, and preventing rhinovirus infections would severely limit the most common human infection.

Since the 1970s, studies have found that zinc ions may inhibit rhinovirus replication. Viral replication plays an important role in infection; inhibiting replication would prevent progression of the disease and ease symptoms. In addition, zinc ions have an affinity for the ICAM-1 receptor, which is bound by rhinovirus when infecting cells in the respiratory tract. Zinc binding the ICAM-1, or the rhinovirus-ICAM complex, would prevent infection of the nasal epithelium, preventing the duration of the common cold.

What Type of Zinc Reduces Cold Symptoms?

In the 1980s and 1990s, zinc gluconate lozenges were shown in some studies to decrease the duration of cold symptoms if taken within 24 hours of symptom onset, whereas other studies had no success. Zinc acetate lozenges appeared to have a better success rate, likely because of their formulation. The problem seems to lie in the concentration of ionic zinc in commercially available lozenges. The ionic zinc concentration is not measurable by the label on a package, it is dependent on what is released as the lozenge dissolves in the mouth over a period of time.

Zinc gluconate gels and nasal sprays have had experimental success in alleviating rhinovirus infection. Some formulations were even marketed, such as Zicam. However, these products were recently warned against due to users losing their sense of smell.

Potential Problems with Zinc Products

Though zinc lozenges have repeatedly been found to exert no side effects or create any problems, beyond the chalky taste, zinc nasal sprays have been shown to irreversibly damage the nasal lining. In particular, Zicam (zinc gluconate nasal spray from Matrixx Initiatives) was shown in an October 2009 study to have cytotoxic effects on both mouse and human olfactory sensory neurons, as well as a near complete loss of the nasal epithelium and submucosa. Sprays not containing zinc did not have this significant effect, indicating that the zinc was cytotoxic to the nasal mucosa.

Using Zinc to Stop a Cold

Though it is far from being a cure, there is evidence to suggest that zinc lozenges may help reduce cold symptoms, cutting the duration of the illness in half and alleviating symptoms more fully after the duration of the illness. A 2011 Cochrane Review concluded that zinc supplementation can reduce the duration and severity of a cold, though the change in duration is mostly by just 1 day. However, the exact mechanism of action is not known, and the exact dosage will differ by product. The guidance is to start with lozenges or tablets within 24 hours of the onset of a cold. In a 2017 meta-analysis, zinc acetate and zinc gluconate were shown to have similar effectiveness.

More studies are needed to better quantify zinc’s effect on rhinovirus and other cold viruses in order to reap the full benefit of this element.

Additional References:

Eby. Zinc lozenges as cure for the common cold: A review and hypothesis. Medical Hypotheses. 2009; doi 10.1016/j.mehy.2009.10.017

Hulisz. Efficacy of zinc against common cold viruses: An overview. Journal of the American Pharmacists Association. 2004; 44(5). Available on the Medscape website.

Lim et al. Zicam-induced damage to mouse and human nasal tissue. Public Library of Science (PLoS) One. 2009; 4(10), e7647.


Saturday, September 26, 2020

Proof that counting calories works for weight loss

It's pretty clear that energy in-energy out dictates weight loss and gain, with the exception of medication side effects and certain pathological conditions. But I lived in denial for a long time that I was the reason for my inability to lose weight, or to maintain any weight loss I did achieve. 

I wrote about my own struggles with weight and how I lost 75 pounds on a calorie restriction diet at Medium. 

It hasn't been easy, and I am still struggling to make the changes permanent. But for those who are struggling, I hope my journey gives you a little hope that it is possible to succeed.

I did a lot of reading about calorie restriction diets before jumping in a few years ago and the exercise regimen I used was, and is, light - walking and simple yoga stretches. Be sure to discuss any potential heart, joint, or muscle problems with your doctor before starting an exercise regimen, as well as any supplements you may need for whatever diet you choose to adapt.

Dieting is only temporary, but lifestyle changes in how you approach nutrition can make any gains permanent.

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Advice for uncertainty

Photo by hannah grace on Unsplash


I have been writing over at various Medium publications about my freelancing career, particularly the scientific editing aspect. 

If you're currently in graduate school or working as a postdoc, you should know that skipping a postdoc isn't wrong. If you're looking for a way to stay in academics without relying on academia, you can read about how I freelanced between jobs and made it a career at The Innovation. I also offer The Beginner's Guide to Academic Freelancing at The Faculty to help you decide what may work for you.

If you've already made a step towards working in scientific, or other, editing, I offer Eight Simple Tips for Being a Reliable Proofreader at The Startup.

You can stay in science by pursuing a non-traditional career, whether in a supportive capacity (e.g., editor) or forging your own way. Expertise is earned only by trying. Use your strengths to get where you want to be rather than worry about pre-determined routes. 

If 2020 is any indication, there's a new normal. Why stay stuck in the old one?

Saturday, September 19, 2020

The unrealized potential of treating disease at a personal level - the mythos of personalized medicine

Photo by National Cancer Institute on Unsplash

Originally published at Medium in August 2020.

By Alicia M Prater, PhD (Aliconia Publishing) 

When I was a graduate student, my advisor would light up when explaining how our work was going to lead to personalized medicine. We were working on understanding the genetics underlying hypertension. The idea was that by knowing which gene polymorphism a person has, the doctor would know which class of drugs would have an effect on their blood pressure and correct the derangement.

Friday, September 18, 2020

Symptoms and treatment of lithium overdose


Lithium capsules. James Heilman, MD, CC4.0 license

Lithium, the third element of the period table of chemical elements, is a soft metal pharmaceutically altered for use to treat bipolar disorder since the 1800s. 

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Dealing with the Minutiae of Covid

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

  Originally published at Medium in July 2020

By Alicia M Prater, PhD (Aliconia Publishing)

I can’t escape catching the headlines, and in my field of work this includes the latest scientific findings and the details of current medical concerns. So when a novel coronavirus started to make its way around the world, I noticed. When European countries started shutting down and Americans started dying, I noticed. When the timelines for my social media networks started to be obituary-heavy, I shut down and cried.

It was only April. 

Monday, September 14, 2020

Moving forward

This blog has been an off and on endeavor for more than a decade. As has the Maeflowers brand as a whole. As of 2019, this blog became the full-time landing page for, and the mission was simplified - to share truthful and factual information with educated and honest commentary.

In 2020, Maeflowers was brought under the Aliconia Publishing umbrella. The fact sheets and learning resources originally planned for Maeflowers have a home at the Aliconia site as part of the Just the Facts-Long-lasting Curriculum series. 

In the short-term, this blog is being cleaned up and updated, with posts restarting fresh with interesting facts and relevant discussions. The social media accounts remain the same. In the long-term, the commentary will be syndicated to a Medium publication and integrated into other forms, both digital and physical, to accompany the Curriculum series as appropriate.

This is the perfect opportunity to organize a collective of free information to help students learning from home, regardless of their age. One of Aliconia Publishing's common sentiments on social media is #readmorebooks, and Maeflowers is here to help anyone following that advice discover new avenues of learning.